Organizers of the second annual Salvation Army Polar Bear Plunge called Saturday's plunge an overwhelming success.
"It looked like we had 100 plungers and 500 spectators," said Jeremiah Eisley, who co-organized the event at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission access ramp near Haywood's on the Water on Antlers Lane in Woodward Township.
"We knew it was going to be good, but we didn't know it would be this good," Eisley said.
Locals brave the cold weather and chilly water to jump into the Susquehanna River near Haywood's dur
Eisley estimated the event raised more than $5,000 through registration fees and sponsorships. Those funds will be used to pay for local Salvation Army programs, particularly those geared toward youth.
The event was held last year at Susquehanna Park, but a need for more parking prompted the owners of Haywood's to offer to host this year's event.
Even with the ample parking facilities at the restaurant and access ramp, cars overflowed the lots and lined nearby roads.
The first participants of the Polar Plunge leap for the open water of the Susquehanna River near Haywood’s on the Water Saturday morning, above. Below, Sun-Gazette reporter David Thompson splashes his way into the icy water. Hundreds of people gathered on the shore to join in or watch the second annual polar plunge.
The festive atmosphere and enthusiasm among participants matched the turnout. Many of the "plungers" arrived in costume.
Local attorney Marc Drier came shirtless, but wearing a striped tuxedo jacket, red cummerbund, black bow tie and faux buffalo headdress.
Drier's law partner Denise Dieter came in a prom gown with a sash proclaiming her "Queen of the Plunge."
She was accompanied by Kortnee Blair, who wore a matching gown and a "Princess of the Plunge" sash.
Others wore Hawaiian shirts, bathing suits and varied attire more suited to much warmer weather, not temperatures in the upper 20s.
As they gathered on the access ramp to await Salvation Army Maj. Steve Stoops countdown to the plunge, a large contingent of spectators gathered on the nearby hillside to view the mayhem.
When Stoops completed the countdown, the crowd joined him in a cheer. The mob of plungers surged toward a room-sized opening cut in the thick ice and thrust themselves into the slushy water.
The air filled with screams, laughter and cheers. As each rank of plungers hurled themselves gasping into the water, they quickly staggered to the icy edges of the opening to make room for those waiting behind them.
"Cold doesn't describe it," Zane Britton, of Williamsport, said of the plunge. "It was beyond cold."
Bryce Britton, also of Williamsport, said the plunge "was the best experience of my life."
"It's really cold but it's really fun," he said.
"I did it last year and it was a blast," said Michael Spaeth II, of Nesbitt. "It's for a good cause, raising money for the Salvation Army. And what the heck else are you going to do in the winter time?"
For Linda Hughey, of Old Lycoming Township, the plunge was an opportunity to do something she has always wanted to do.
"This is on (Hughey's) bucket list," said her friend Rosanne Oeler, of Williamsport.
"I think the Salvation Army is a great organization," Hughey said. "They help a lot of people and I wanted to help them in some way."
Hughey said she was confident she would survive the plunge and be able to make it to the next event on her list - a trip Wednesday to Punxsutawney for Groundhog's Day.
County Court Judge Marc Lovecchio said he participated in last year's plunge and "had a great time for a great cause."
Lovecchio glanced at Drier as he remarked how the event attracted a wide range of eccentric personalities. He added that his previous experience allowed him to be much better prepared for this year's event by bringing more towels and warm clothing.
Thomas "Tank" Baird and "Major" Tom Boyle, who said they were members of Team Freeze Willy, also participated in last year's plunge.
"No matter what you do, nothing prepares you for this," Baird said, adding that last year he "trained" for the event by taking cold showers and making snow angels in his underwear.
"It didn't help," he laughed.
Lovecchio's ruling on proper polar bear plunge etiquette: "You have to go completely under, then feel the pain," he said.
Salvation Army cadet Craig Shoff, who helped organize the event, admitted non-compliance with the ruling.
"I went in up to my neck and that was enough," he said.
Shoff called Saturday's experience "a chilling sensation."
Safety was a priority at the event.
Divers in insulated wet suits from Sunken Treasure Scuba Center of Jersey Shore were on hand, taking positions in the water around the perimeter of the opening in the ice. Firefighters and ambulance crews also stood by to handle medical emergencies.
Haywood's owner Rich Johnson said he and co-owner Kim Walker were more than happy to support the event.
"We're all about the local community," Johnson said. "We thought it was a good fit for the polar bear plunge to be held here."
Johnson said both he and Walker participated in the plunge. Employees of Haywood's three restaurants also participated financially, he said.
"We raised money at all the locations and it was about $1,800," he said.
"This is obviously a tradition the valley wants to keep and at the same time raise money for a cause to do work in the community," Stoops said.